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80% Coalition: The tug-of-war between truth and lies over meaningful gun reform in Wisconsin

Per the August 2019 Marquette Law School Poll, 80% of Wisconsin voters want the gun background check loopholes closed and 81% want to allow Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) to remove a firearm from an individual only if so ordered by a court, from an individual who is a risk to themselves or others.

Before the November 8 special session took place in the Wisconsin State Capitol building, representatives spoke on behalf of dozens of advocacy, business, education, faith-based, professional and service organizations from across Wisconsin, to insist that Wisconsin legislative leaders allow the vote on lifesaving gun violence proposals that have the overwhelming support of Wisconsin voters. Following the press conference, organizations participating in the 80% For Strong Gun Laws rally on the steps of the Capitol’s steps.

Darryl Morin, Founder of the 80% Coalition; Pastor Scott Marrese-Wheeler, Oakland Cambridge Presbyterian Church; Debra Gillespie, Survivor and Founder of Mothers Against Gun Violence; Anneliese Dickman, Brady: United Against Gun Violence; Khary Penebaker, Everytown for Gun Safety; Tyler Kelly, Chapter Lead of March for Our Lives MKE; Pardeep Kaleka, Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee; Jeri Bonavia, WAVE Education Fund; Dr. Vivek Balasubramaniam, M.D., Doctors for America; Rev. Kerri Parker, Executive Director for the Wisconsin Council of Churches; and Lucy Preysz, Communications and Policy Coordinator for NAMI-Dane County.

Consisting of organizations in advocacy, business, education, faith, health care, and social services, the 80% Coalition has been calling for the immediate passage of meaningful legislation to reform our existing firearm laws. Wisconsin citizens have become tired of watching our fellow Americans become victims of gun violence. They are heartbroken from the stories. Many have seen images of six-year-old Stephen Romero killed in Gilroy, California. The public has heard the story of the young mom and dad in El Paso, Texas, who together, shielding their two-month-old baby, were both killed by the same bullet, leaving their child parentless. These stories remind are examples of the tragedies the Milwaukee area community suffered in Oak Creek and Brookfield.

“I’m a gun violence survivor, as well as a volunteer for Moms Demand Action. My dad was a fifth generation farmer. He was an avid hunter and he loved the outdoors. He was 28 years old when he came out of rehab for alcoholism. The first couple months after rehab is a very difficult period, because people can feel a lot of shame as they come to terms with what they have done with alcohol – while they’re trying to start a new path. On top of that for my dad, it was a really challenging time for farmers during the planting season. Over the course of a few weeks, he made it clear to family members and a counselor that he had a death wish. On May 27 1982, he called his counselor and him that he was going to kill himself. My mom did not know about that call. She went into the into the city and was buying a little red wagon for my brother’s birthday, who was about to turn one. My dad drove down a gravel road. He shot himself with a magnum in the chest. When I think about that, what kills me is not knowing if he regretted the decision after he pulled the trigger. Because when you have a gun, most of the time, there are no second chances. We know that 85% of the time when somebody uses a gun, when they attempt suicide, they will be successful. If they use other means, 15% of the time it is successful. So we know that access to guns greatly increases lethality when somebody attempt suicide. And we know that risk protection order will save lives and it has saved lives.” – Heather Driscoll, Moms Demand Action

The fear across Wisconsin is real. For the first time in history, many Wisconsin parents added bulletproof backpacks to their school supply lists for their school-age children. Clergy now regularly instruct congregants to look for the nearest exit upon entering houses of worship, and children regularly participate in lockdown drills at school. But there are commonsense measures that can be taken to stem the violence. And with overwhelming public support, the public looks to the state’s elected representatives to take real steps to save Wisconsin lives.

Background checks work. To date, over 3.5 million sales of firearms have been blocked by background checks. Sadly, current law only requires background checks on sales conducted by a licensed dealer. This legislative loophole allows convicted violent felons and domestic abusers to purchase the weapons they are prohibited from purchasing and possessing, either online, at a gun a show or in person from a private seller. This “no background check market” has turned into a booming business. In 2018 alone, one website ran over 1.2 million online ads for firearm sales that did not require background checks.

“We in America have a government by the people, for the people, and of the people. We deserve to know where our legislators stand on this issue, so our government must take a vote since 80% of us support it. Then we can see their vote and explain their position to us, which they have avoided doing. We are asking our legislators to tell us where they stand and why they stand there. 80% of us believe this is necessary legislation that save lives.” – Bishop Steven Miller, Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee

Not only is reform needed to stem domestic terror and crime, but to reduce the number of lives lost to suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, 664 people in Wisconsin were killed with firearms. That includes 455 individuals who took their own lives. Access to a gun increases the risk of suicide threefold.

“After taking the oath of office to become Wisconsin’s 45th Attorney General, I called our legislature to take action on common sense gun safety measures. I asked them to take up red flag legislation and the universal background checks. In those last 10 months, we’ve seen legislation introduced that would expand background checks and close the loophole that allows people who have committed violent felonies and who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders to buy firearms without having a background check conducted. We’ve also seen legislation that would allow family members or law enforcement to go to a judge when somebody has been shown to be a danger to others and get an order temporarily disarming those people, so we can keep our community safe. The legislation has been introduced, but what we have seen from our legislature is inaction. There has been no vote on common sense gun safety measures. There’s been no debate. There hasn’t even been a hearing on those measures. And that’s not because we don’t need action. In the last 10 months, we have seen local elected officials here, Wisconsin, step up and call for action over 180 leaders from across the state calling in the legislature to take action. We have seen gun violence continue. We have seen the problem of suicides with firearms continue this past summer. About a day apart. There were two mass shootings, one in Dayton, and one in El Paso. Kids continue to go through lockdown drills in schools in Wisconsin, and parents continue to be worried about the safety of their kids. So we are here with a very simple message for the members of the legislature. It is Time for you to do something. It is time for you to take action. We have had enough of political cowardice. We have had enough of legislators making excuses. and we are not going to stop fighting for common sense change until those common sense measures supported by 80% of Wisconsin nights it passed into law.” – Attorney General Josh Kaul, Wisconsin Department of Justice

While our state is deeply divided on many issues, common sense reform to our gun laws is not one of them. In the August 2019 Marquette University Law School Poll, 80% of Wisconsin voters favored closing the background check loophole and “making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks.” Even more telling, 75% of households with a firearm, and 88% of households without firearms agreed this reform was needed with the majority agreeing that “it would reduce the number of mass shootings.”

For the safety of our family, friends, neighbors and colleagues, elected representatives are urged to put the lives of Wisconsinites before the interests of special interest groups, and immediately pass the following:

  • Legislation that extends the current background check requirement to include any sale or transfer of firearms at a gun shows, online or from an individual in a private sale.
  • Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) legislation that allows law enforcement or a family member to petition the court if they believe an individual with a firearm is a danger to themselves and/or to others and if the threat is found to be credible, empower law enforcement to retrieve the firearm(s) until the threat is no longer.
  • A resolution condemning domestic terrorism.

Wisconsinites can do anything when they come together, and on this issue they have. It is now the expectation that elected officials will do the same.

“Someone is killed by a gun every 15 hours in Wisconsin. Yet lawmakers continue to push this issue to the back burner. The issue of gun violence impacts every community in the United States, but young people aged 15 to 24 are 23 times more likely to be killed with guns than coming compared to students from other countries. When lawmakers say they won’t even debate this issue. I am being told that my life doesn’t matter. That my safety isn’t important.” – Karly Scholz, WI State Director for March for Our Lives

The 80% Coalition includes Advanced Wireless, Inc., the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Brady: United Against Gun Violence, the Community Coalition for Quality Policing, Crusaders of Justicia, Doctors for America, the Rt. Rev. Steven Andrew Miller (Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee), the Felmers Chaney Advocacy Board, the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, Forward Latino, the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Hours Against Hate, the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, JCRC-Milwaukee Jewish Federation, the League of United Latin American Citizens Wisconsin, March for Our Lives MKE, March For Our Lives Wisconsin, Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, NAACP: Milwaukee Branch, the Wisconsin State NAACP Conference of Branches, NAMI Dane County, NAMI Wisconsin, Serve 2 Unite, UMOS and the Wisconsin Anti Violence Effort (WAVE).

Wisconsin's Special Session: Fact-Checking Laws and Guns

Red flag laws: These allow judges to temporarily remove firearms from people acting dangerously. Universal background checks: These measures require background checks for sales by private parties, in addition to gun dealers, which are already required by federal law. Governor Tony Evers can schedule a special session by executive order, but he cannot force meaningful debate, even when the latest polling shows about 80% of Wisconsinites support such proposals.

CLAIM: Says “red flag laws” allow gun seizure without a judge’s involvement: “They take it away first. Then you have to get permission from a judge to do it.”

SPEAKER: Robin Vos, Republican Assembly speaker (October 22, 2019)

WHAT POLITIFACT FOUND: Red flag laws — including the one proposed in Wisconsin — do not typically work like that. They involve police or family petitioning a judge, who must sign a preliminary order before any guns can be seized. Indiana does have a law set up as Vos describes, but even there the seizure decision by police is subject to immediate judicial review. And that’s the exception, not the rule. (read more)

RATING: Mostly False

CLAIM: Universal background checks involve asking people “to submit the serial numbers to their guns to a state or federal official,” and that violates the Second Amendment.

SPEAKER: Scott Fitzgerald, Republican Senate majority leader (September 22, 2019)

WHAT POLITIFACT FOUND: The serial numbers that are submitted for background checks do not end up in government hands for years or decades. And then the federal agency is barred from fashioning them into a database. There is no evidence such a requirement would violate the Second Amendment, since several states have gun registries that have not been struck down by the courts — and a similar provision was upheld by federal courts in a Washington DC case.

RATING: Mostly False

CLAIM: Says people convicted of felonies or under restraining orders “can buy a firearm without going through a background check.”

SPEAKER: Josh Kaul, Democratic attorney general (August 15, 2019)

WHAT POLITIFACT FOUND: All purchases from firearms dealers are subject to state and federal requirements that include a criminal background check. But Kaul is right that Wisconsin is among the states with no oversight of gun sales between private parties. That has allowed people in the circumstances he described to buy guns, in some cases with tragic results.

RATING: True

CLAIM: “Less mass shootings under Trump!”

SPEAKER: Ron Tusler, Republican state representative (August 4, 2019)

WHAT POLITIFACT FOUND: The chart Tusler based his claim on was both incomplete and outdated — including only half of Trump’s time in office. And it’s absurd to use a raw tally of shootings to compare just over two years under Trump to eight years under Obama. Using more comprehensive data and a reasonable criterion like shootings per year, mass shootings have risen steadily in recent decades regardless of who is in the White House. So shootings are up — not down — under Trump.

RATING: Pants on Fire!

CLAIM: “90% of policemen are for” expanding background checks to all gun sales.

SPEAKER: Richard Durbin, U.S. Senator, D-Illinois (September 23, 2019)

WHAT POLITIFACT FOUND: He was referencing a 2017 survey by Pew Research Center, which asked police at departments that employ 100 or more officers whether they support requiring background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows. Eighty-eight percent responded that they did. However, it is important to note that survey left out officers at smaller, more rural jurisdictions who may not share the same views, and we could not find any other recent polls that addressed the question.

RATING: Mostly True

CLAIM: “Over 90% of the American people think we have to get assault weapons off the street — period.”

SPEAKER: Joe Biden, Democratic presidential candidate (September 12, 2019)

WHAT POLITIFACT FOUND: We looked at five polls following the El Paso and Dayton shootings in early August. Those polls showed overall support for banning assault weapons ranged from 56% to 70%.

RATING: Mostly False

CLAIM: Red-flag laws have been “shown to reduce the number of suicides by firearms.”

SPEAKER: Creigh Deeds, Democratic state senator in Virginia (June 11, 2019)

WHAT POLITIFACT FOUND: The scant research available, confined to two states, backs Deeds. Duke studies have concluded that one life was saved for every 10 firearms seized in Connecticut and Indiana. A University of Indianapolis study found it statistically likely that the two states would have experienced more gun suicides if they did not have the law. But the claim by Deeds could use some clarification. The number and rate of suicides – by gun or other means – have increased in both states and across the nation this century. What the studies conclude is that it would have been even worse in Connecticut and Indiana without the law.

RATING: Mostly True

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